Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society – Simultonality

Information:

Released in 2017 by Eremite Records

Recorded in Chicago and Montreal, 2014 and 2015

Silk-Screened cover

First Pressing, Limited to 825 copies

Painting by Lisa Alvarado

Format: LP


Review:

Over the past decade, Josh Abrams has been using his guimbri to create music inspired by the ceremonial music of the Gnawa in North Africa, infusing it with a wide variety of influences from kosmische to minimalism to the avant-garde jazz of his local scene in Chicago. Each of the albums he’s released with this project gives a unique perspective on this sonic territory.2015’s Magnetoception (review) demonstrated a meditative and spacious sound with slow, creeping rhythms from percussionist Hamid Drake while Autoimaginary (Review), a collaboration with new age group Bitchin Bajas, was even more ambient and drone-oriented. Simultonality is instead focused on “pure motion” driven by the double drums of Frank Rosaly and Michael Avery (both returning NIS members). The more constant NIS members include Ben Boye (keys, autoharp), Emmet Kelly (guitar), and Lisa Alvarado (who has not only played the harmonium on every NIS album, but has also been responsible for the visual representation of the band through her amazing paintings).

Throughout the album, the musicians play individual rhythmic figures that push and pull against each other like polyrhythmic tectonic plates, often interlocking together hypnotically. Opener “Maroon Dune” is definitely characterized by this, with a nonstop, energetic groove that shifts between 5/8 and 7/8 while ominous harmonium sweeps creep in and out, utilizing varying degrees of dissonance to add suspense and development to the track. An intense, unison pulse reminiscent of Steve Reich or Swans starts off “Ophiuchus”. When the pulse starts to reach its peak the guimbri breaks into a triplet groove and the rest of the instruments shortly follow suit without losing any momentum; Serpentine harmonium and guitar melodies slither around and against the rhythm. Although the songs here have a lot of movement, they also tend to be quite circular, without worrying about getting to point B. In this case the instruments eventually sync back up into the heavy pulse that began the track. As the only track without drums, side closer “St. Cloud” serves as an apt breather. No drums doesn’t mean this track has no pulse though; the rhythm here is driven by twinkling bells and possibly kalimba, with keyboards and/or harmonium atmospheres swirling around. Eventually guimbri does come in, although in a less active role than the rest of the album.

Album centerpiece “Sideways Fall” starts with driving guimbri that is soon joined by the others, creating an frantic, interlocking groove that could soundtrack a jungle chase scene in some adventure movie. The drumbeat here is apparently a deconstruction of the drum break in Can’s “Vitamin C”. The groove occasionally loosens up like a quilt pulling apart at the seams. Whenever things start feeling too loose, Abrams returns to a single pulsing note on the guimbri that guides everyone back to the center again before setting off into a new groove.

A frenetic and free upright bass solo begins closer “2128 1/2”, backed by a dark, wild swarm of percussion, dissonant keys, and guitar. This eventually settles down into a slow, swinging groove, recalling the Coltrane quartet on one of their Crescent-era vamps. This sets the stage for guest saxophonist Ari Brown to make his entrance with a strong, spiritually resolute solo that can’t help but feel like some kind of arrival for this album of cyclical motion.

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